One of the chief selling points for the upcoming Suicide Squad is Harley Quinn, the scantily clad, wisecracking, and ruthless villain played by Margot Robbie. A much-loved character from DC Comics, Harley first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, and to say her big screen debut is eagerly anticipated would be an understatement.
Naturally then, expectations are sky-high for Suicide Squad to deliver a Harley Quinn that is both true to her source material and offers a fresh take on the character. With over 30 years of content to play with, Harley has had an interesting evolution, veering wildly between comic effect, madness, and psychotic violence.
Striking a balance between these aspects of Harley's character is certainly a challenge, but they are all essential to her characterization. Whether Robbie's version of the character is true to form entirely rests on the tone of Suicide Squad, which so far seems to be the perfect blend of irreverent antihero comedy and psychological action thriller. And yet, there's only so much we can tell from the trailers.
Robbie Told To Play Down Comedy
In Entertainment Weekly's new print issue, the magazine featured small quotes from each of the Suicide Squad actresses, and Robbie talked about how she and Ayer crafted her character.
"Whenever I would be inclined to play into the comedy or play her more likable, he'd always direct me the other way. He wanted her to be pretty vicious."
Harley Quinn definitely isn't one to don kid gloves, and some versions of the character have taken psychotic violence to new heights — we can see this especially in the game Arkham Asylum and her debut in the Suicide Squad comic. But as dark as her humor gets (and it gets pretty twisted), Harley is always funny, and this is something her creator Bruce Timm pointed out to io9 when asked about the upcoming film.
"I think bottom line the most important thing about her is that she’s funny. One way or the other regardless of what her backstory is, or whether she’s in an abusive relationship with the Joker, or if she’s off on her own, or hanging out with Poison Ivy, or whether she’s a villain or a hero. Her stories always have to be fun."
Of course, there's a difference between Harley being funny and her being "likable" — sometimes the most vicious villains are those that laugh when committing atrocities.
So perhaps it's not a question of Harley being funny, but whether she's a sympathetic character. Although that just throws another iron in the fire.
Harley's Journey To AntiHeroism
Harley is fascinating because despite being a villain, we really root for her as a person. The key to her success back in Batman: The Animated Series was her humor and the fact that the audience sympathized with her while enjoying her villainy. Some of the most poignant moments of the show came when Harley leaned into both her humor and the difficulty of her relationship with the Joker.
There's a lot of complex things going on with Harley, and previous incarnations have struggled to maintain the right balance. When the Suicide Squad comic leaned too heavily on Harley's frightening brand of violence (not to mention her obsession with the Joker), the series was critically panned and subsequently cancelled due to falling sales.
Later comics learned from this, and Harley's New 52 solo comic proved to be a huge success, striking the perfect balance between Harley's gleeful love of violence, her sense of humor, and the sympathetic element to her story. Harley has experienced something of a redemption — not quite a hero, Harley has nonetheless moved on from vicious villainy and even teamed up with Power Girl in another comic.
Then of course there's her ongoing romantic relationship with Poison Ivy, which has become an important part of Harley's journey.
Ultimately, Harley Quinn is a complex character, and balance is the key to the perfect interpretation. Everything we've seen from her in Suicide Squad so far seems to be fantastic, and here's hoping she rises to all our expectations. After all, she needs to be nuanced to carry her solo film!